Barry Ryan passed away two months ago today, on September 28th, at the age of 72. The melodramatic, theatrical and grandly orchestrated — “poperatic” — songs he sang (written by his identical twin Paul, who died in 1992) represent the best of a side of 60’s popcraft that has often been unjustly maligned. I think we can now all look back on the Ryan brothers’s achievements with loving affection.
But even beyond that, it is hard for me to conceive of how Freddy Mercury could have written “Bohemian Rhapsody” and launched it into the stratosphere had “Eloise” and the other Ryan Bros. extravaganzas not come first. In fact, Mercury relied on the precedent of “Eloise”’s five+ minute length to counter EMI’s hesitance in issuing “Rhapsody” as a single. See https://www.telegraph.co.uk/obituaries/2021/10/01/barry-ryan-singer-formed-duo-brother-paul-had-worldwide-success/. Party on (up there), Barry.
The (UK) Guardian‘s obituary of Barry Ryan tells us that:
Barry’s life had its share of Dionysian excess – parties at his flat in Eaton Place were renowned; Jimi Hendrix spent his first night in London there. But he never forgot his roots. Born in Leeds, he was the son of Marion (nee Ryan) and Fred Sapherson. Fred left when the boys were two, and Barry and Paul were brought up by “Nana”, their adored grandmother, watched over by three loving “sisters” – technically their aunts, but who were roughly the same age as the twins – while Marion, who had had her boys as a teenager, pursued her singing career. She became a successful performer, rising to prominence in the 1950s with the band leader Ray Ellington, and was a regular on the television musical quiz show Spot the Tune. . . . At 16 Marion sent them to a kibbutz in Israel, where they lasted two weeks and were later discovered singing in a Tel Aviv nightclub. Now they knew what they wanted.https://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/oct/07/barry-ryan-obituary
The (UK) Telegraph picks up the story from there:
Marion suggested they try a career as singers. Her soon-to-be second husband, the American impresario Harold Davison, managed the brothers and, with further guidance from other leading lights in the record industry, Paul & Barry Ryan had five Top 30 hits. . . .https://www.telegraph.co.uk/obituaries/2021/10/01/barry-ryan-singer-formed-duo-brother-paul-had-worldwide-success/
Boudewijn de Kadt writes in the liner notes to the CD release of ‘68’s Barry Ryan Sings Paul Ryan and ‘69’s Barry Ryan that:
Styled and groomed for stardom, the image of the groovy singing twins living together in a pad in Swinging London could have come straight out of some retro Austin Powers type flick . . . . But it was all too true. . . .
Anyway, the Telegraph goes on:
A Cat Stevens song, Keep it Out of Sight, returned them to the upper echelons of the charts in 1967, but subsequent singles bombed. Paul then confronted Barry to tell him he no longer wanted to perform. “He had a nervous breakdown and wanted to quit show business,” Barry [said]. “He’d been frustrated about the fact we were getting nowhere. He didn’t like singing in public [but] thought he could write songs.” Eloise, included on the album Barry Ryan Sings Paul Ryan, proved that he could compose a hit and the brothers’ singer-songwriter partnership continued for several years. But future singles . . . were only mildly successful in Britain, compensated for by the fact that they charted well across Europe . . . . [H]e packed in singing in 1976 to become a [renowned] commercial and portrait photographer . . . . “The hits weren’t coming,” he [said]. “I was drinking a lot. I was slightly off the rails and I thought I’d had enough of this, and I discovered photography.”https://www.telegraph.co.uk/obituaries/2021/10/01/barry-ryan-singer-formed-duo-brother-paul-had-worldwide-success/
Upon Barry’s death, the singer best known to us as Cat Stevens tweeted that:
Yesterday a good old buddy of mine passed away, his name was Barry Ryan. Our time together began back in the 60’s when he and his twin brother, Paul, were all tuxedo-suited, poppy teenage stars. I had written a song for Paul and Barry Ryan called “Keep It Out Of Sight” and so we began hanging out. . . . We were prone to raving—a lot. . . . When I contracted TB, it was Paul who gave me my first introductory book on Buddhism and meditation, The Secret Path, that inspired me to delve deep inside myself in search of ultimate answers to life’s questions. . . . When I spoke with [Barry] recently he told me he was fully at peace knowing he only had a short time left on this earth.https://www.noise11.com/news/barry-ryan-of-eloise-fame-dies-at-age-72-20210930
264) Barry Ryan — “Eloise”
Ah, “Eloise,” Eloise. It reached #2 in the UK in October of ‘68. I am pretty sure that everyone in the UK knows the song (love it or hate it). How can I possibly include it in a blog about songs that no one has ever heard? Well, it barely made the Hot 100 in the US, reaching #86. I am pretty sure that no one in the US knows the song.
The (UK) Guardian’s obituary notes that:
Paul had written the track for his brother’s deep, soulful voice . . . . Eloise is mysterious. Its collision of styles – Puccini meets gospel meets Broadway musical – was part of what was being manufactured as “new” in pop. Not everybody warmed to it, with one critic describing the song as “sounding like a man being strangled by a cat”. The orchestral textures and structural intricacies were clearly influenced by Jimmy Webb’s MacArthur Park; and its “popera” owes much to Phil Spector’s Wagnerian overlays on tracks such as Walking in the Rain. Hyper-melodramatic content with soaring male vocals were in vogue. Yet none of this accounts for the enduring allure of Eloise. No one can agree whether it is a sugary madeleine of a song about a man’s idealisation of an unobtainable woman, or a melodrama of dark obsession and savage yearning. But everyone does agree that the vocal style and the power of Barry’s voice carries the song. “Singing from the heart,” one critic noted. Barry performed the recording in two takes, with a high degree of professionalism in the production. Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, on their way to founding Led Zeppelin, were two of the session musicians.https://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/oct/07/barry-ryan-obituary
De Kadt’s liner notes muse that:
[T]he monstrous, dramatic, five minutes and forty seconds aural drama that is “Eloise” jumped out of nowhere as the new-look MGM’s first single release, pretty much straight to number one in six countries and the top five virtually everywhere else, including the UK! That a song encapsulating the wildest dreams of Scott Walker, the dark dementia of “McAuthur Park” and the puzzling lyrical obscurity of the wiggiest psychedelia, boasting a startling arrangement, by the enigmatic [Johnny] Arthey with as many twists and turns and knowing winks as an imaginary Van Dyke Parks versus The Bee Gees video game should enjoy such mainstream success is almost unthinkable today. Indeed, it was something of a shock then as the “show-biz brats” showed them all where to get off.
Here are two cool “live” renditions of “Eloise”:
The British punk band the Damned recorded a version that reached #3 in the UK in February of ‘86. No lie:
265) Barry Ryan — “Why Do You Cry My Love”
An equally cinematic album track from Barry Sings Paul Ryan.
Here is Barry and Paul’s version:
266) Barry Ryan — “The Hunt”
This single and album track from Barry Ryan hit #34 in the UK in October of ‘69, though I could swear that Paul McCartney, rather than Paul Ryan, penned it. In places, it sounds as if “Martha My Dear” got airdropped into a fox hunting pastiche. Don’t get me wrong — it’s fabulous.